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Movies & TV

03rd Oct 2022

Sacheen Littlefeather, who rejected Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, dies aged 75

Steve Hopkins

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In an interview last month, Littlefeather looked back on “the most violent moment that had ever taken place at the Academy Awards”.

Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American civil rights activist who famously rejected an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, has died at the age of 75.

In 1973, Brando was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Godfather, and asked Littlefeather to attend the ceremony in his place and turn it down.

Brando was annoyed by the manner in which Littlefeather’s people were portrayed in cinema, and thus refused to accept the honour.

The Academy of Motion Pictures confirmed Littlefeather’s passing on Twitter in the early hours of Monday morning (3 October), writing: “Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75.”

People on social media have since shared messages of condolence and remembered just how brave Littlefeather had been.

One user wrote: “Rest in Power Sacheen Littlefeather, you’re a brave indigenous tribal lady.

“A moment which took Academy Awards many years to apologise what transpired on that stage that day. Thank you for standing up and staying strong.”

Another wrote: “To the undeniable world changer. How lucky are we to have someone with such a sweet spirit and warm smile have the strength to take on a world that thought they were better than you, better than all of us. Rest peacefully and thank you for your guidance.” Littlefeather caused controversy with her appearance at the 45th Oscars ceremony.”

Speaking at the  Oscars in 1973, Littlefeather said: “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… and on television in movie re-runs, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”

She was quickly removed from the stage as boos rang around the theatre. John Wayne was reportedly so incensed by Littlefeather’s speech that he had to be held back by security staff.

In an interview with Variety last month, Littlefeather recalled the event:

“I heard a disturbance from behind me as I was speaking up at the podium. I found out that he [Wayne] had been restrained by six security men from assaulting me while I was on that stage. That was the most violent moment that had ever taken place at the Academy Awards.”

Earlier this year, the Academy Awards issued an apology to Littlefeather and held a special event – titled An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather – which was described as a “very special program of conversation, reflection, healing and celebration” where she formally accepted the apology.